Published: 24th April 2019
Rajeshwari Ramachandran and her two dogs are teaching Bengaluru how to communicate with canines
Dog trainer and canine behaviourist Rajeshwari Ramachandran teaches people about how we should be treating dogs and the tell-tale signs that people should look out for while interacting with dogs
We all have that one friend who is perpetually scared of dogs, whether it's a random street dog or a well-trained pet dog. This is usually due to the lack of awareness of animals and their behaviour. But Rajeshwari Ramachandran from Bengaluru, who has been working as a dog trainer and canine behaviourist for over six years now, has not only trained dogs, she has also helped thousands of people observe their dog's behaviour and interact with these furry creatures in a way that doesn't irritate them.
It all started when Rajeshwari got two dogs home, but was frustrated when she was unable to understand their behaviour. She opted for classes conducted by Shirin Merchant, Founder of Canines Can Care, in Mumbai. She says, "The period of training changed my perception of dogs, it was an eye-opener for me. Before I got the dogs home, I was really scared of dogs in general and had a few common misconceptions about them like anyone else. I decided to take up three different courses related to dogs and their behaviour. While the dog trainer course deals with basic subjects like training them to shake hands, feeding them and taking care of them, dog behaviour is another course that deals with anxiety, happiness, sadness and toilet training. The third course is about the aggression of dogs. It focuses on aggressive dogs and how to deal with them. Each of these courses is ten day-long."
Her team: At present Rajeshwari has two dogs with her and she takes them out to train people
After the completion of training, Rajeshwari came back to Bengaluru and worked as a dog trainer for over two years. She even helped organise some of Shirin Merchant's dog training events in Bengaluru. She says, "The conventional and traditional training for dogs has always been the police-dog training. Six years ago, there was a dearth of dog trainers in Bengaluru. That's why I got into dog training. I also trained a bunch of people on the behaviour of dogs and how one has to take care of them."
Rajeshwari, who also works as a freelance HR professional, realised that she should not limit herself only to dog training. Therefore, she shifted her focus to educating employees in the corporate sector and children in schools about the behaviour of dogs and how we should respond to them. She started her own project called Human Dog Interaction. Under this project, she runs a flagship programme called Kids and Dogs. When we asked her about why a separate programme for kids was the need of the hour, she explains, "The reason to conduct this programme is very simple. Kids are scared of dogs for two reasons. Either they take after the behaviour of their parents who are scared of dogs or they have had bad experiences with dogs in the past, for example, a dog would have barked at them aggressively or it would have bitten them."
The first misconception among people is that every dog bites, but it is not so. It does have the potential or capacity to bite. If the dog faces a threat, it might run away from there or put up a fight. The first thing that the dog will do is growl. A growling dog is communicating with you, it might jump and when this doesn’t work, it might even bite. Every dog bite causes rabies is the wrong perception. The dog must be infected with rabies to do so
Recently, Rajeshwari conducted several classes for children in a leading Montessori school where children learnt how to understand dogs and their behaviour. "Through this, the kids understand when they can pet dogs and when they need to stay away from them. I even taught them that they need to refrain from running or yelling at dogs in case they are being chased. Rather they must learn to ignore it, avoid eye contact and stand firm like a tree. Last month, during World Autism Awareness Day, I took my dogs to Sakra World Hospital where autistic kids got the opportunity to interact with them. I take care of the hygiene of the dogs and these classes happen in a controlled environment. These are popular in other countries, where people usually allow autistic kids or special kids to interact with dogs. But in India, this will take some time to gain ground."
Rajeshwari realised that even many adults found this training useful. Hence, she started another programme for them in corporate companies. Being an HR professional, she approached different companies with the proposal of putting her dogs to use to help reduce the stress of employees during work hours. "According to one research, petting a dog releases oxytocin. It is a love hormone that helps reduce work stress. Hence, I have taken both my dogs to several corporate companies like Wipro, Practo and others. When people take small breaks from their work, they come to pet the dogs and this helps reduce their stress. During this process, people who are scared of dogs start getting comfortable, their display pictures on social media changes to pictures of dogs and they even start feeding stray dogs and taking care of them."
Game changer: Rajeshwari's Human Dog Interaction Programmes has changed the perception about dogs in many people
The third project that Rajeshwari has undertaken is Experiential Learning where corporate employees are taken to an offsite location and are divided into teams. They are given tasks that need to be performed with dogs within a stipulated time. It's an experiential programme wherein a lot of teamwork is involved and participants need to exercise qualities like empathy, communication skills and so on. This helps people get comfortable with dogs and interact with them based on the dog's signs (more on this later). "The dogs who I work with obey simple commands like jumping, shaking hands and running. When it comes to tasks, the dog needs to be taken through a tunnel. This works only when people establish a connect and communicate with the dogs. One should give the right cue to the dog. The tasks can involve simple things like making a dog jump, finding a hidden treasure, getting the dog to walk while on a leash without pulling it," she explains.
There are several misconceptions about the nature of different breeds of dog. People say that labradors are friendly and rottweiler are always aggressive. It's not the breed of the dog, its the deed. When a dog is nurtured in a proper environment then its behaviour is always normal. One should not categorise their behaviour on the basis of their breed
What are the signs we need to look for?
Rajeshwari says that people take a lot of liberty with their own dogs. They hug it aggressively, pull its tail and do a lot more. Her programme is designed to teach people whether the dogs they see on the roads is a pet or a stray and the signs one can watch out for to interact with them. She says, "Dogs communicate with us in two ways. Either they bark or communicate through their eyes and tails, which is non-verbal communication. One should not look into a dog's eye while walking towards it, it is rude. When a person approaches a dog and if it yawns, people think that the dog is sleepy, but it means that the dog is stressed. Nose-licking, turning its face away or showing its back - these are signs of a stressed dog. If you see a dog whose tail is between its legs, then it means that the dog is in fear and one should not go close to it. If the body is stiff and the ears are pulled back then one should stay away from it for some time."
Dog’s tail is another part of its body through which one can make out their behaviour. People say a dog who wags its tail is a happy dog. But one should also notice the way the tail wags. If the tail is parallel to the ground and wagging swiftly, then it's happy. Sometimes the dog's tail is straight, pointed towards the sky and moving right and left slowly. This shows that the dog is watching you and asking you to stay back. When you see a dog, don't run towards it. This can intimidate or scare the dog. When you want to pet a dog, sit down and maintain one hand distance. Let the dog come to you if it wants to be your friend."
People usually become aware of issues related to dogs when they get one at home. But I am out there to help people even before they get dogs. They learn to feed stray dogs, rescue them, adopting dogs instead of buying one, work against animal cruelty and much more
Rajeshwari Ramachandran, Dog Trainer and Canine Behaviourist
Parents must take care of their kids.
Rajeshwari always asks parents to monitor the dog's interaction with the child until the child is eight years old because sometimes, kids tend to unknowingly trouble the dog. "Even if the dog gives out several signals asking children to stay away, kids don’t understand. Kids might pull its tail which will irritate the dog and they might snap at the children. Therefore, parents must be really careful when kids are with dogs."
It is not true that a puppy will get attached to a family more easily than an adult dog. There are concerns that an adult dog will not settle into the family, but dogs can settle in at any age and bond with families provided they are given enough love and care.
Dos and don'ts for kids
When not to pet: Children should not bother or pet a dog when it is eating because they tend to get irritated
No hugging: Since dogs are adorable, children naturally want to hug a dog. But dogs generally don’t like being hugged. Teach children to give dogs space
A way to love them: Teach children to sit next to the dog and pet the dog on its side. That is good behaviour. Engage children with dogs when it is relaxed
Very important: Don’t run when a dog chases you. Stand like a tree, firm on the ground, hands folded and avoid eye contact